Obsession Is Essential

Nobody ever became truly great at something without obsessively pursuing it…

Obsession Is Essential

Nobody ever became truly great at something without obsessively pursuing it.

Harmonious Passion

Often, the word obsession has got negative connotations. And there definitely are unhealthy obsessions.

Fixating on and worrying about the past or the future, obsessing over a person who doesn’t like you back, or playing video games so much that it negatively impacts your real life (school, work, etc.), are all damaging behaviours that, if continued for longer periods, will hurt you.

However, I would argue that channelling your energy and your focus into something productive and positive – and obsessing over that – can be a good thing. In fact, I have a theory:

Nobody ever became truly great at something without obsessively pursuing it.

I don’t think that Jimi Hendrix became a legendary musician just by casually practising the guitar every once in a while. I also doubt that Lewis Hamilton won the most Formula 1 races of all time by driving to and from the store once a week. And I’m sure you will agree that Eliud Kipchoge didn’t run the fastest marathons in history by training a little bit here and there when he felt like it.

No. They are (or were) obsessed with what they do. Living and breathing their obsession in their waking hours, every day.

I believe that the same trend exists in any profession, sport, or craft: The top performers are obsessed. They possess a strong, harmonious passion – freely incorporating their chosen activity into their identity.

Getting Addicted

I used to play a lot of video games (I wish I had more time for that now) – and I think there are great benefits to playing:

  • Improving your logical puzzle-solving abilities

  • Enhancing your reaction speed

  • Practising your eye-hand coordination

  • Building social connections with other players

  • Improving your team leading and cooperation skills

  • Gaining a sense of mastery and achievement

And more.

However, I eventually started obsessing over the games that I played. Massively Multiplayer Online games can be very addictive, and I got addicted. I played a whole bunch of them, like FFXI, FFXIV, TERA, Rohan, Aion, and Age of Conan.

After I finished college and the mandatory service in the Norwegian army, I took a gap year to figure out what I wanted to do. I had a ton of free time and ended up playing MMOs much more than before. Hours and hours every day – often as if they were a full-time job.

I saw the same trend in every MMO I played: I rose to the top among the players on the server, beat the hardest world bosses, got the strongest weapons/gear, and obtained massive amounts of in-game gold.

‘Success’ in those kinds of games is very repeatable. You have to obsessively pursue it and put in the hours. But ultimately, the success you achieve in an MMO is not very useful in real life.

My ridiculously decked out character on high ground overlooking Kelsaik, one of the hardest bosses in TERA at the time, before a 20-man raid.

After a lot of gaming and a good amount of soul searching in that gap year, I decided to go to university and study creative media - which later evolved into a career in visual effects.

Cold Turkey

Early on at university, I began noticing the very real impact the games had on my life and studies. I found myself wanting to play more than I wanted to learn the new subjects.

Luckily, I realised what my priorities should be, and decided to quit playing. Cold turkey.

Instinctively, I did something that I would read about years later in the book Atomic Habits, which was to make bad habits difficult to start/continue.

I gave away all my weapons, gear, and money in the game to a friend of mine who was still playing, and deleted any items that were bound to my character, before deleting the character itself and the game account.

It would be a massive pain to go back and restore and rebuild the character which I had spent so long upgrading.

And that worked. I stopped playing MMOs. Which freed up time to actually study.

But addiction is a real thing, and I felt phantom ‘withdrawals' for a couple of years after I quit. Like an ill-defined hole left behind.

Online gaming, to me, was an unhealthy obsession. And over time, I replaced it with a growing, much healthier obsession for compositing visual effects in Nuke. Which became my harmonious passion.

I think it’s easy to get addicted to games when you don’t feel like you have a purpose, because games flood you with a feeling of achievement. For me, working in VFX provided that missing sense of purpose, which dulled the ‘need’ for playing video games. – Don’t get me wrong, I still love them, but I am perfectly okay with playing much less.

Healthy Obsessions

And I think that’s a valuable strategy: replacing unhealthy obsessions with healthy ones. Fostering a harmonious passion while making it difficult to fall back on damaging behaviours.

A harmonious passion even has a positive effect on life outside of doing the activity.

One way to build a healthy obsession is to gamify learning. Gamification maximises your enjoyment and engagement by capturing your interest and inspiring you to continue learning. When you make learning into a game, it feels less like work and more like play.

Streaks, leaderboards, badges, and stories are partly why Duolingo is so popular for language learning, for example. (I’m on a 1649-day German streak at the moment – it works).

But the important thing is to find something you enjoy doing. For its own sake. Compositing is a fantastic way for me to combine my technical and creative abilities, and learning new techniques in Nuke is something I do even outside of work, in my own time.

I realise it can be easy to upset the work/life balance but if something doesn’t (only) feel like work to you, the dynamic changes.

If you want to be great at something, allow yourself to obsess a little. 🙂

I hope you found this article useful. For more reflections, see Advice.